Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

Started May 18, 2016 | Discussions
bminghelli New Member • Posts: 7
Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

I recently got the 200-500mm f5.6 lens. I'm mainly using it for pictures of my daughter's soccer team - I'm just an amateur. I knew what I was getting with this lens but the one area I'm having fairly serious issues with is the autofocus so I'm hoping others may be able to help me figure out if it's something I might be doing wrong, a defect, or just a limitation with the lens.

When I'm shooting, I'm in AF-C + d9 tracking mode. I use back-button focus, release priority. I generally always shoot wide open (5.6). I'm using the D600.

The issue I'm having is not the known issue regarding focus switching to manual that requires a firmware update to resolve. I checked my serial number to be sure. Instead, the issue I seem to have frequently is that when changing subjects, it doesn't autofocus successfully on the new subject. Sometimes releasing the back-button and pressing again will refocus correctly but it often even takes a few tries before finally getting focus.

As a simple test, I did the following just now outside in my street:

  1. Focused on an object about 20' away (a bush) at 500mm
  2. Released the back button
  3. Switched to an object about 75' away (a car license plate or another bush), still at 500mm
  4. Pressed the back button to refocus on the new object

Approximately 50% of the time, it fails to focus on the second object. Like I said above, sometimes, releasing the focus button and then pressing it again will work. Other times it may take multiple attempts.

It seems to never have an issue focusing again on the 20' object. Prior to this lens, I've always used my kit 70-300mm lens and never had this issue (the exact same camera settings too). One thing I haven't tried but probably will next is to do the same test but at 300mm to see if it improves at all at shorter focal lengths.

Any thoughts/suggestions?

Nikon 200-500mm F5.6E ED VR Nikon D600
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Stusteelhead Senior Member • Posts: 1,138
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue
2

I have noticed that D9 seems to cause this same issue for me I shoot single focus point and find it much more responsive also check the lock-on,   try setting it to 1 or 2

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cosmicnode Veteran Member • Posts: 6,669
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

bminghelli wrote:

I recently got the 200-500mm f5.6 lens. I'm mainly using it for pictures of my daughter's soccer team - I'm just an amateur. I knew what I was getting with this lens but the one area I'm having fairly serious issues with is the autofocus so I'm hoping others may be able to help me figure out if it's something I might be doing wrong, a defect, or just a limitation with the lens.

When I'm shooting, I'm in AF-C + d9 tracking mode. I use back-button focus, release priority. I generally always shoot wide open (5.6). I'm using the D600.

The issue I'm having is not the known issue regarding focus switching to manual that requires a firmware update to resolve. I checked my serial number to be sure. Instead, the issue I seem to have frequently is that when changing subjects, it doesn't autofocus successfully on the new subject. Sometimes releasing the back-button and pressing again will refocus correctly but it often even takes a few tries before finally getting focus.

As a simple test, I did the following just now outside in my street:

  1. Focused on an object about 20' away (a bush) at 500mm
  2. Released the back button
  3. Switched to an object about 75' away (a car license plate or another bush), still at 500mm
  4. Pressed the back button to refocus on the new object

Approximately 50% of the time, it fails to focus on the second object. Like I said above, sometimes, releasing the focus button and then pressing it again will work. Other times it may take multiple attempts.

It seems to never have an issue focusing again on the 20' object. Prior to this lens, I've always used my kit 70-300mm lens and never had this issue (the exact same camera settings too). One thing I haven't tried but probably will next is to do the same test but at 300mm to see if it improves at all at shorter focal lengths.

Any thoughts/suggestions?

Try again using the shutter release, it may be a bad contact on your back button.

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Mike.
"I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure."

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bgbgbgbgbg Contributing Member • Posts: 945
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue
2

Mine does the same thing. I now use spot focus and have turned focus lock off. I shoot mainly birds not sports so I don't know if you will want to turn off focus lock or just turn down to 1 or 2.

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OP bminghelli New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

Is that also with the 200-500mm or just in general that you have that problem with d9? I don't have any issue with my 70-300mm...

OP bminghelli New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

Thanks for the reply. It can't be that though because I have no issues with the back button with any other lens

Bill Ferris
Bill Ferris Veteran Member • Posts: 8,461
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue
2

Hello. I've not encountered this problem - at least, not on any kind of regular basis - shooting birds in flight with the 200-500 mounted to my D610. I hope you don't mind me peppering you with a few questions in an attempt to gain a bit more info.

You wrote that you've checked your lens's serial number to confirm it's not affected by the AF firmware bug. Did you check the serial number through the Nikon USA web site? https://support.nikonusa.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/19490

The bug affects the lens while simultaneously zooming with AF engaged. If you have any suspicion the firmware bug may be an issue, I would suggest doing a simple test:

  1. Set the D600 AF to AF-C, single point
  2. Set (a3) focus tracking with lock on to ON and 1
  3. Select two static subjects at obviously different distances but adjacent to each other in line of sight
  4. Pan back and forth between the two subjects with AF engaged and continually adjusting zoom

If the camera consistently stops focusing after a couple of pans, I would suspect the firmware bug is the issue and would recommend you contact Nikon about it. Otherwise, time to move on to the next potential issue.

Do you have the focus limiter on the lens set to Full or to infinity to 6 meters? I find if the lens becomes defocused at the near limit, it often has difficulty recognizing and attempting to focus on a subject at a significantly greater distance. In that scenario, I'll manually adjust focus until more distant subjects have enough shape and detail that the lens will attempt to achieve focus. In my experience, this is more likely to happen with the focus limiter in Full mode. Of course, if you have sideline access to your daughter's soccer matches, you could lose quite a few good shots if the lens won't focus nearer than 6m from you. If you're typically at least 20-feet from the action, I'd recommend setting the limiter to infinity to 6m.

It was recommended in a prior reply to set (a3) focus tracking with lock on to ON and 1 or 2. I started using this mode a couple of months ago and it's improved my hit rate. I also pulse AF using back button focus. In short, I'll acquire a subject and initiate AF just before ripping off a burst. I'll then lift my thumb, reacquire, re-engage AF and rip a second burst...assuming I have a second opportunity with the same subject. If I'm following a subject and decide to switch to another target, I'll again pulse the AF before taking an exposure.

I find the 200-500 is most reliable right after initial focus acquisition and for a second or two after. That's why I pulse AF. I do shoot in AF-C, 9-point dynamic and, while I'm not getting anywhere near a 90% hit rate, the keeper rate is high enough. It's gotten better as my technique has improved. I've never been impressed with 3D autofocus performance of the D600/D610 and don't use it.

If your backgrounds tend to be more complex, I think the suggestion of switching to single-point AF-C could help the camera to remain locked on your subject. Of course, you'll need to paint your subjects with that single point and there'll be no room for error. That sounds like a fun challenge to improve your tracking skills.

Are you shooting handheld, on a monopod or tripod? If you're shooting handheld, I might suggest using a monopod for the added stability.

Good luck and best of success resolving the AF issue.

bminghelli wrote:

I recently got the 200-500mm f5.6 lens. I'm mainly using it for pictures of my daughter's soccer team - I'm just an amateur. I knew what I was getting with this lens but the one area I'm having fairly serious issues with is the autofocus so I'm hoping others may be able to help me figure out if it's something I might be doing wrong, a defect, or just a limitation with the lens.

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Flagstaff, AZ
http://www.billferris.photoshelter.com

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OP bminghelli New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

Thanks, I experimented a little with turning down focus lock to 1 and although I don't think it had any impact on this issue (I wouldn't expect it to since I'm assuming that with every release of the AF button it would reset) but I am going to see if it helps me in other ways.

OP bminghelli New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

First off, thank you for taking the time for such a detailed response. To answer your questions...

Did you check the serial number through the Nikon USA web site? https://support.nikonusa.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/19490

Yep, checked that. Also tried zooming while simultaneously holding down the AF button and didn't seem to have the issue.

Do you have the focus limiter on the lens set to Full or to infinity to 6 meters?

I tried both settings. Overall I didn't see to much difference. Oddly, if anything it seemed to be slightly worse while trying the 6m-inifinity setting but it's probably just the randomness of the issue.

Of course, if you have sideline access to your daughter's soccer matches, you could lose quite a few good shots if the lens won't focus nearer than 6m from you. If you're typically at least 20-feet from the action, I'd recommend setting the limiter to infinity to 6m.

Yeah, I'm considering trying to use the 6m-infinity setting during the next game because I did read somewhere else that focus speed improves quite a bit with that setting but as you said I am worried about the 20' minimum distance that means.

It was recommended in a prior reply to set (a3) focus tracking with lock on to ON and 1 or 2. I started using this mode a couple of months ago and it's improved my hit rate. I also pulse AF using back button focus. In short, I'll acquire a subject and initiate AF just before ripping off a burst. I'll then lift my thumb, reacquire, re-engage AF and rip a second burst...assuming I have a second opportunity with the same subject. If I'm following a subject and decide to switch to another target, I'll again pulse the AF before taking an exposure.

I'm going to try exactly this. I do close to that now, but my lock on was set to the default (3). I also tend to leave the AF button pressed for long periods as I follow a player. Although my experimentation doesn't suggest it will improve this particular issue, I am very curious if I'll get a better hit rate in general with the lock set to 1 instead and by "pulsing" more frequently.

If your backgrounds tend to be more complex, I think the suggestion of switching to single-point AF-C could help the camera to remain locked on your subject. Of course, you'll need to paint your subjects with that single point and there'll be no room for error. That sounds like a fun challenge to improve your tracking skills.

I'm going to play around some more while still using d9. At least for now, trying to limit focus to a single point, especially following a player at 500mm, will be too challenging.

Are you shooting handheld, on a monopod or tripod? If you're shooting handheld, I might suggest using a monopod for the added stability.

With this lens, I've mostly been shooting with a monopod, with a few handheld periods occasionally.

Good luck and best of success resolving the AF issue.

Thanks. The more I experiment with this, the more I do think it is due to being at a long focal length and not having enough contrast for the camera to properly lock in. Being a noob with this lens (and anything > 300mm), I just didn't expect it. When I tried the same tests at 300mm, it had no issues quickly acquiring focus.

I should also say that I predominantly use an off-center focus point outside of the 9 cross type points. Next, I'll try using one of the 9 center cross points and see if it improves. Not that I'll necessarily always switch to a center point, but it's still good to know.

HSway
HSway Veteran Member • Posts: 3,176
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

I am always careful to use AF limiter when not focusing under 6 m. The full range AF cripples less-than-excellent AF on the 200-500/5.6 VR. Maybe this was mentioned, I tried to read the replies, interesting discussion.

Also can be useful to realise that at closer distance the subject often is filling larger part of the frame. 9p dynamic around the long end results in misfocus often as the DOF is thin and the single point tracking (with AF-on button pressed) gives much more reliable results for both the accuracy for your desired spot of focus and the speed as this mode is less hesitating for it’s less complicated. This all is even truer of using 14 III TC.

Generally in my experience, the dynamic is more useful for smaller subjects with this lens - mostly at further distance. I find its use limited and will use group area more often, also for hitting the target immediately (like in flight). This is for d750 and 14 III. I didn’t use the lens with D600 yet. Nuances for what we are shooting exactly vary though and so do the nuances in preferences with these modes. With regard to lock-on setting that is a brilliant point. I like it slightly lazier experimenting with 3 normal and 2, with 14 TC and this lens you don’t want the it rushing into action.

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OP bminghelli New Member • Posts: 7
Re: Nikon 200-500mm autofocus issue

Thanks, I'll probably experiment with the distance limiter. I read that using 6m-infinity would yield faster focusing but I am worried about missing shots when the players get within that 6m threshold.

I may also try single point AF and see if I end up with more hits or fewer. I haven't tried that for a while and never with this lens.

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